Lawrence Wilkerson, retired Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell in the George W. Bush administration (2002-2005), speaks frankly about U.S. policy towards Iran.
Wilkerson says that the overthrow of Mossadegh, subsequent support for the Shah, and allying with Saddam Hussein after the 1979 revolution were all meant to maintain empirical control over Iran, the natural hegemon of the region.
Iraq: Alternative Strategies in a Post-Surge Environment
Prepared Testimony to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Armed Services, United States House of Representatives
January 23, 2008
"Iran is the hegemon of the Persian Gulf. We recognized this when we helped orchestrate the overthrow of the first democratically-elected government in the history of Persia, led by Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953. We installed the Shah and he was in power for 26 years and was, so to speak, our hegemon. When the oil crisis of 1973 struck and oil prices soared, then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and his president, Richard Nixon, sold more than $20 billion worth of arms to the Shah to keep him "our hegemon" and to try to offset some of the huge transfer of wealth that was occurring in the direction of the oil-producing states of the Middle East.
The "our hegemon" part changed in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown. But the hegemon part stayed the same—as geography, demography, and military power tend to stay the same—though we have tried to deny it for almost 30 years. We tried to build up Iraq to counter Iran, but as the bloody Iraq-Iran war demonstrated, Iraq without our help could not stand up to Iran. The reason is clear: Iran is the regional hegemon because Iran is more powerful than any other country, period. Israel, were it in a different geographical situation, could compete, particularly because Israel is a nuclear power (another reason why Iran wants a nuclear weapon of course), but we cannot simply slice Israel away from the Mediterranean and plop it down in Oman next to the Gulf.
Iran has more people, more territory, better organization, a more nationalistic people, and frankly far superior armed forces than any other Gulf power. Again, let me repeat the reality: for all the strategic, geographic, demographic, and power reasons one declares such things, Iran is the hegemon in the Persian Gulf.
Ironically, by invading Iraq in 2003 and introducing barely-controlled chaos onto its territory, we destroyed what balance of power there was in the Gulf, largely between Iran and Iraq, and we did so to the overwhelming advantage of the real regional hegemon, Iran. Today, our presence on the ground in Iraq is the only thing keeping the scales from tilting dramatically toward Iran. So, when we withdraw from Iraq we need to get over our strategic myopia and passionate hatred for the government in Tehran, act more like George Washington than George Bush, and in parallel with our slow, careful withdrawal from Iraq negotiate a very much-improved and increasingly amicable relationship with the Gulf's true hegemon, Iran."
REGIONAL AND GLOBAL CONSEQUENCES OF U.S. MILITARY ACTION IN IRAN
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Subcommittee on National Security
November 14, 2007
At a prior House committee panel, Colonel Larry Wilkerson gave an abridged explanation of this view before fellow military and intelligence experts examining U.S. policy towards Iran:
"Iraq [sic] is the hegemon in the Persian Gulf. By demography, by size, and a number of other factors that a strategist would look at. We recognize that [smiling slightly]. That's the reason we overthrew Mossadegh in 1953 with Kermit Roosevelt, Frank Wisner, and a bunch of leftovers from the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] in World War II. We then installed the Shah, and for 26 years, we fed that hegemony. We fed it with twenty billion dollars worth of arms from Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Read Robert Dallek's book and you'll understand just how significant this transfer was. We almost decided to give him nuclear weapons.
Then comes the revolution, and all of a sudden we've got a different set of people in Tehran. That doesn't change the fact they're still the hegemon. And we need to recognize that. Iraq, of course, balanced 'em for a while, we took Iraq's side in the Iran-Iraq War, we did. Iran would have beaten Iraq had we not done that...even though Iraq had strategic, operational and tactical surprise on Iran when it attacked. So, they are the hegemon, we need to recognize that, and we need to deal diplomatically, economically and otherwise with coming to some kind of accommodation with that very real strategic reality."
State Department Biography
Lawrence B. Wilkerson
Chief of Staff,
Term of Appointment: 08/01/2002 to 01/26/2005
Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired) Larry Wilkerson joined General Colin L. Powell in March 1989 at the U.S. Army's Forces Command in Atlanta, Georgia as his Deputy Executive Officer. He followed the General to his next position as Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving as his special assistant. Upon Powell's retirement from active service in 1993, Colonel Wilkerson served as the Deputy Director and Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia. Upon Wilkerson's retirement from active service in 1997, he began working for General Powell in a private capacity as a consultant and advisor.
In December 2000, Secretary of State-designate Powell asked Wilkerson to join him in the Transition Office at the U.S. State Department and, later, upon his confirmation as Secretary of State, Secretary Powell moved Wilkerson to his Policy Planning Staff with responsibilities for East Asia and the Pacific, and legislative and political-military affairs. In June of 2002, the Director for Policy Planning, Ambassador Richard Haass, made Wilkerson the associate director. In August of 2002, Secretary Powell moved Wilkerson to the position of Chief of Staff of the Department.
Wilkerson is a veteran of the Vietnam war as well as a U.S. Army Pacific hand, having served in Korea, Japan, and Hawaii and participated in military exercises throughout the Pacific. Moreover, Wilkerson was Executive Assistant to US Navy Admiral Stewart A. Ring, Director for Strategy and Policy (J5) USCINCPAC, from 1984-87. Wilkerson also served on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College at Newport, RI and holds two advanced degrees, one in International Relations and the other in National Security Studies. He has written extensively on military and national security affairs, especially for college-level curricula—and been published in a number of professional journals, including the Naval Institute's Proceedings, The Naval War College Review, Military Review, and Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ).
Released on November 28, 2003